(Read Brittany's words, Chapter 1 "The Choice" Below)
When I got married, I listened to the words being spoken just two feet in front of me. I took them seriously. Now, here we were. In front of God, our families and friends, and a giant red cross, flaming with the intensity of the love that I had for my about-to-be new wife. For richer, for poorer. In sickness, and in health. To death do us part. I mean, I really thought about those words. It wasn't because I was unsure of the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It was because I really wanted her to know how much she meant to me. That I really knew what I was getting myself into. That I would cherish her and hold her and give her everything that she desired. I do. All of my thinking never prepared me for what the world would throw at us soon. Newly married. Madly in love. Ready to take on that world together. We weren’t prepared, but we survived, made it through and are stronger now than we were then.
After we lost our triplets, I felt helpless. Brittany had endured so much pain over those three months late in 2009. How was I going to be able to get her to understand that I still loved her? Was she going to still love me? What would our marriage be like without children of our own? It would be difficult, but not insurmountable. It would be filled with loss and thoughts of inadequacy. It would be really good one day and awful the next. We had extremely long talks. What did we want out of life? What did we want from each other?
Our families helped, the best they could, but they didn’t quite understand what we were going through. Our friends tried to comfort us and divert our attention away when we needed it, but they were even farther removed from us than our families were. Our community didn’t make it easy at times. When Brittany would come into contact with a colleague that she hadn’t seen in awhile, she would be forced (unwillingly by one, unknowingly by the other) to retell her story of losing the babies and having the stroke. She would come home and tell me that she had to tell the story again. Some days twice, three times in a day. It was excruciating for her. People, truly oblivious and innocently interested in her, ultimately felt sorry and embarrassed for asking after hearing the tale. Most apologized and all said they were sorry for her loss. I completely understand how someone who saw my wife pregnant one month and then saw her again 6 months later would ask, “How are your babies doing?” The answer that I always wanted my wife to give was: “They’re dead.”
She never did. She’s better than me in that regard. I wanted people to feel some of the loss, of the pain that we suffered. I unfairly wanted people to automatically know the story without even hearing it. I didn’t want her to have to tell another soul about the loss, the pain, the shame that I was feeling. I wanted to fight back. She showed me that you didn’t have to. She showed me what grace and power really was.
Far more rarely, I got the same questions that Brittany did. “How are your babies?” I always insisted that I didn’t have any. The look in their eyes was always, “Am I talking to who I think I am? I know we had a baby shower for your wife. Why don’t you have the babies you are supposed to have?” I always deflected the first question, not answering it. Most men let it go at that point. Men, I guess, tend to do that. Women however usually pressed on and when forced to tell the story, I would. I wouldn’t be spiteful, instead taking cues from my wife, I would tell it like I had heard her tell it so many times before. I would tell it with heart and hopefulness. That we had these awful things happen, not to us, but just happen in our lives. I would take a hand or an embrace, people always want a hug after hearing that your babies died. Good thing that I’m a hugger. I love giving hugs. I would look forward to the hugs. They helped me and I hope that they helped all of those people who just heard our awful story. I imagine that hearing our story always made them sorry they asked. You could see it in their eyes. The sadness, the horror, the embarrassment of being quick to ask the question without thinking of what the answer might actually be.
Time passed. Wounds healed and Brittany recovered fully. She was still the funny, intelligent, and sexy woman who I chose (and luckily she agreed) to share my life with. Things got better in most facets of life. The story telling ceased to be as frequent, with willing participants not being as plentiful, as most in our orbit had now encountered the tale. With the decision being made not to try again to have children and not to adopt, we just didn’t think about it as much as we did in the first year after it happened. We got back to “normal”, but it isn’t what everyone else’s normal is. Everyone else, it seems, has babies. Friends, cousins, workmates, celebrities, royal families. The whole wide world was fertile and sowing and reaping and we couldn’t. A different kind of question then started being asked of Brittany. “How many children do you have?”
Our community is a very proud and boastful one, priding itself on being very child friendly - a great place to raise children. Neighborhood signs marking the entrance to each "hood", show happy families holding hands, declaring your arrival into their protective sanctuaries, their municipal embrace, their protective wombs. The city wants you to know you are in a place that is safe to take your family to the park, to live comfortably amongst other families in its neighborhoods. I never really thought about that before I chose to try to have children, but I knew that Springfield, MO was a great place to raise kids, because I had be told that and overheard that countless times before. The question that I was asking myself now was… “Is Springfield a great place NOT to raise kids?”
We were surrounded by parents with children. We were finding it hard to connect with people our age that didn’t have children. When we would go to work events or find ourselves at dinner parties or family get togethers we would undoubtedly be introduced to people whose first question was not, “What do you do for a living?” but “How many children do you have?” Because that’s what you do in Springfield. You raise children. After many awkward years of conversations over drinks and barbecue, we started to wonder was this the place that we really wanted to live? It’s residents were so focused on child rearing, was it just too much to have to deal with the reminder of our failures and to keep having to tell the story over and over, even as infrequent as it now was years past?
We decided to stay. My family is close by. She has solidified herself professionally and starting over in another city, while it might be exciting and adventurous, would have held the promise of even more unwanted conversations. People know us and our story here. Our story is us. Sharing our story over the years stopped being a burden. It wasn’t the city’s fault. It’s a great city. It wasn’t the people asking the question’s fault. They cared about us. They wanted to know about us. We were hurt. We were grieving. We were healing.
We are now at the point where we WANT to share our story. For other people out there feeling like we did, know that you can have a great fulfilling life without children. Very few people since we lost the babies shared with me that they had similar experiences when they tried to have children and failed. Those confidences mean so much more to me every day. Right after losing the babies, I wasn’t in a place to really accept their experiences as helpful episodes, but I am glad that they did because those stories stuck with me. They rattled around in my brain and when I needed them most, I remembered them and felt comforted by them. I felt like I wasn’t alone.
You are not alone.